Saturday, April 18, 2015


Throughout my lifetime, I've considered multiple places home. Washington, D.C. was home for the first 5 years of my life. Until high school graduation, West Liberty, Iowa held that title. During those glorious days at the University of Northern Iowa, Cedar Falls, Iowa beame the place where I felt most comfortable. Oviedo, Spain was my home when I studied abroad during college. Seoul, South Korea became my home during my year of teaching English overseas. Boynton Beach, Florida attained that distinction during my two years of AmeriCorps service. Now, I can finally add Repelon, Colombia to that list as well. After a little over two months in my pueblo, it is now feeling like "home."

Below are some things that life in a pueblo signifies when it starts to feel like home:

  • #ThatPuebloLife means not having to worry about taking keys with you when you leave the house because everyone just leaves their front doors open.
  • #ThatPuebloLife means having a student participate and do his work in class while holding a live baby chicken in his lap. 
  • #ThatPuebloLife means having to move one of your classes outside because the classroom was damaged when a soccer ball came crashing through the roof, turning the room into a construction zone.
  • #ThatPuebloLife means upon finishing a community English class at 8 pm and leaving the school, you have to wait to cross the street because a passing herd of cows is occupying both lanes of the road.
  • #ThatPuebloLife means having to choose between taking a shower and using the toilet because there is only enough water in your 10-gallon trash can for one of those activities.
  • #ThatPuebloLife means having an impromptu Catholic Mass at school because it's Wednesday and why not.
  • #ThatPuebloLife means waiting around for 3 hours for your counterpart, only to find out the next day that they had a doctor's appointment and couldn't call because their phone conveniently died.
  • #ThatPuebloLife means enduring long periods to time without electricity, which normally occur during the hottest moments of the day, causing you to sweat like you've just run 10 miles, while everyone else around you is dry and comfortable.
  • #ThatPuebloLife means having to scrap together a meal of yogurt, granola, and peanut butter sandwiches at 10 pm because you come home late from your night class and are too lazy/tired to cook real food.
  • #ThatPuebloLife means being recognized as that crazy gringo that tried to walk back to town when the bus stopped because a truck had overturned in the middle of the road and didn't want to wait the 30 minutes it took to move the trucks.
  • #ThatPuebloLife means quickly realizing that rain showers do not bring reprieve and coolness; instead, they bring increased humidity, ravaging mosquitoes, and mud trenches where dirt roads used to 
  • #ThatPuebloLife means feeling safe and secure with your environment to walk around at night, stop by stranger's houses, and say hello to those sitting on their patios.
  • #ThatPubeloLife means waking up every morning, ready to embrace the day's challenges and quirks head on
  • Finally, #ThatPuebloLife means being able to look around at your surroundings and know that when the time comes for you to move on, you are going to miss this place.
It's amazing to me how quickly I have become comfortable with my new surroundings. The daily routine is finally in place. The faces around town are becoming more and more familiar. Shouts of "Profe" reverberate through the streets when I leave my house. It's been challenging, but rewarding two months so far. Who knows what the next 20 have in store...

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Parque Tayrona - A Natural Colombian Beauty

Since arriving in Colombia, there has been lots of talk about places to visit along the coast and throughout this vast country. One of those places, Parque Tayrona, has been mentioned numerous times by various people – and for good reason! I kicked off my Semana Santa vacation by visiting this popular tourist destination with 4 other friends (Jessi, Derek, MC, and Janice). In planning this trip, we found it very difficult to find accurate, up-to-date information. So in an attempt to help other travelers and future visitors to this national gem, I'm going to help out by giving more of a logistical recap of our trip. (Accurate as of April 1, 2015)

Getting there:

Getting to Parque Tayrona is not that hard of an endeavor. Once I Santa Marta, the coastal city closest to the park itself, take a taxi to the mercado area. The bus leaves from Calle 11 and Carrera 11. You can also just ask the taxi driver to take you to “la parada para los buses a Parque Tayrona.” This taxi ride should cost $5000.00 pesos (approximately $2.50). Once there, take the Parque Tayrona bus. 

There should also be a placard in the front window that says something about Tayrona. Also, ask any of the attendants or people on the street and they will be able to also help you out. The bus ride, which is 1-1.5 hours, depending on traffic, cost $6000.00 pesos (approx. $3.00). The bus will drop you off at the entrance of the park.

Admission into the Park:

Once you get off the bus, you'll see a bunch of shops selling various items (drinks, food, camping supplies, etc.). Walk past these and to your right will be a little amphitheater where they do an orientation that is required before entrance to the park is allowed. Trust me, you have to attend this orientation. My friends and I attempted to skip this and had to get out of line for tickets to attend. The orientation lasts for about 15 minutes. The park ranger basically goes over the history of the park and basic rules of what's allowed and prohibited while inside the park. 

Welcome map at the entrance of the park
After the orientation, the park ranger will hand out little tickets with the number  of people in your group. In order to buy your tickets into the park, you MUST have this ticket. If you are traveling with more than 2 people, I would suggest that you pool all of your money together and send one person to buy your tickets. For foreigners, the price of admission is $39500.00 pesos (approx. $20.00). Plastic bags are not allowed in the park, so avoid bringing them with you at all. Environmentally safe bags are available at the entrance if you do have plastic bags with you.

Entering the Park:

Once you have bought your ticket and have shown the receipt to the guard at the main gate, there are two options to get to the parking area (no cars are allowed beyond that point). One option is to walk. The walk itself takes about an hour and is fairly stress-free. It's a nice little jaunt through the beginning part of the park. If walking is not your cup of tea, then you can take a van (called a colectivo) for $3000.00 pesos (approx. $1.50). The colectivo will drop you off at the parking area and then it's about a 5 minute walk to the start of the trail that leads you into the main part of the park itself.

Lodging Options

Once you reach the parking lot, there are ways that you can reach the various camping sites and beaches. One option is to walk. The hike to Arrecifes (the first campsite option) is about 1.5-2 hours, depending on how fast you hike and how many breaks you take. It's a beautiful hike that has some pretty spectacular views of the Caribbean Sea. The other option is to take a horse along a different path. This costs about $16000.00 pesos (approx. $8.00) and takes about 45 minutes to reach Arrecifes. The other camp site, San Juan de Cabo, is about another 45 minute walk from Arrecifes. This site is a little more popular than Arrecifes because it is right on the beach and water. 

We stayed at Arrecifes and had a really pleasant experience! There are three lodging options: camping, hammocks, and EcoHuts. In order to camp at Arrecifes, it costs $20000.00 pesos (approx. $10.00) a night per person. They do not have any equipment that you can rent there, so be sure to bring your own tent and sleeping bag. The hammocks cost $300000.00 pesos (approx. $15.00) a night per person and should be reserved ahead of time to guarantee that there are enough for your group. The EcoHuts (small, economically and environmentally cabins) are another option, but I'm not sure on the price of those. The same options are also available at San Juan de Cabo.

There is a restaurant at both Arrecifes and San Juan de Cabo,  it the food is pricey (at least from the perspective of s current Peace Corps volunteer where funds are limited). Prices ranged from $16000.00 pesos (approx. $8.00) to $46000.00 (approx. $23.00) for entrĂ©es. However, they do offer freshly made fruit juices for only $4000.00 pesos (approx. $2.00) that are delicious! If you are traveling on a budget, I would suggest bringing food with you to eat. Near the beach at La Piscina, there are some arepa stands that offer some reasonably priced options as well.

Things To Do:

La Piscina: This little stretch of beach is a pleasant place to relax, catch some sun, and enjoy the cool water of the Caribbean Sea. There are a couple of restaurants and arepa stands nearby, so if you get hungry/thirsty, there are places to satisfy those needs.

San Juan de Cabo: This second camping site is situated right in the beach, which makes a popular spot for most visitors. It tends to be more crowded than Arrecifes, but provides the same amenities and options. One extra thing that you can do here is snorkel. There is gear that can be rented for this if interested. 
El Pueblito: This small, traditional indigenous village is situated high in the Sierra Nevadas that surround Parque Tayrona. The hike to the village is about 2.4 km long and is a strenuous one. The majority of the hike is spent scaling boulders and discerning between poorly marked paths. The village itself is a collection of about 5-6 traditional huts. There are a few people that make this place their home. The hike down was a lot easier. There is a back trail that is devoid of boulders and only takes about 45 minutes to complete. Definitely recommend that for the trip back down. 

All in all, this was a great trip. The breathtaking views and relaxing time on the beach were a perfect way to kick off the Seaman Santa vacation. The rest of the week was spent back in my pueblo getting ready for the upcoming school week. More to come about the last few weeks, which have proven to be unpredictable!